"The errand I sent after the bodyguard agency was foiled, I presume?" came a deceptively soft voice from within the lengthy shadows.
The large, expensive windows were closed securely, letting no light in. Despite this, Ricky still felt uncomfortable. He hated it when the boss got like that. It usually meant that he was in a bad mood. And when the boss was in the bad mood, you wouldn't know what to expect. Most of the time-he had witnessed it on several occasions-very nasty things happened.
Sure, he'd been reborn well over fifty years ago, but the boss had lived much longer than he did. How old, he didn't exactly know. But what he knew was that the boss commanded a lot of respect and fear in all his henchmen. As well as within the underworld circles.
Ricky was slapped on with the latter, as he struggled not to let his trembling show. He had failed, and the boss had made clear what the price of failure was. "Y-yes, boss. The cronies I sent were incompetent. I'll make it right the next time," he floundered for words. "I-I promise. Give me another chance, boss. I'll make it right, I swear."
Chillingly, the boss, known more famously as Marco de Fontaine, or Marco the Day Walker, smiled chillingly, leaning forward in his mahogany desk, a smile on his strikingly handsome face. One thing that the boss was exceptional in was that although he was a vampire, he could walk in daylight. And that, was what made him deadly. And the boss was very well-versed in the occult, which made him all the more dangerous. Ricky was afraid of him. Hell, everyone who met him was.
"No, no, no. Why would I kill you?" he leaned back and took an elegant sip of a fresh virgin's blood from his crystalline glass-that most probably cost much more than Ricky made in a year-deliberately making Ricky's mouth water even as he watched. The warm liquid was intoxicating, and Marco savoured it for a moment before opening his eyes. "The bait is taken. The vampire with the filthy soul will come for me now." his smile grew wider as he licked his elongating fangs in anticipation.
"I've always wanted to taste what his soul's like." Marco went on conversationally, gesturing Ricky to take a seat, which he did willingly. "Pure, marvellous."
"I will get him for you, sir." Ricky promised, eager to get back into his master's good books.
Marco waved a hand that was bedecked with jewelled rings of every kind. "No. I'll do this myself. He has destroyed one of my important little pawns, and I want his soul removed from him." he growled, eyes glinting with inhuman fury.
"You mean Wolfram and Hart, sir?" Ricky asked meekly.
"Yes," Marco struggled to get his anger under control. A gentleman never lost his temper. "Wolfram and Hart was one of my bigger works, my pride and joy. And the meddlesome vampire destroyed it. Brought it down." he looked at Ricky for a moment, contemplating something."Where is the girl?"
Ricky froze in fear. "W-we haven't got her yet, sir. The meddlesome people from the vampire's pathetic little company came and killed all of them before they could do anything."
"Get her." Marco snarled suddenly. He wanted the LaVelle girl against all odds. Not even that snivelling Marie could save her from him now. Cassandra was essential to his plans to enable him to become totally invincible. For now, he was still afraid of holy water and crosses. Stakes and beheading could still kill him. With Cassandra, the Key, he would not be harmed by anything under the sun. He would be untouchable.
He would truly become immortal.
Marco had already started to devour souls as well, and found it to his fancy. Blood had only satisfied his thirst, but not his hunger for souls. And once that pesky turncoat's soul was dealt with, the notorious vampire named Angelus would be back. His sire would be back to aid him, to spread the evil, to restore the Evil Ones that had once walked this world before the humans came.
"Protect my investment, and make sure the vampire with the filthy soul doesn't come for them. Get one of the demons to watch and trail him. I want everything on him."
As Marco watched Ricky the dog scramble out, pathetic as he was, he couldn't help but laugh at his impending victory.
If the vampire named Angel was truly the Angelus of old, all the better. Marco had heard wonderful and horrifying stories about the One with the Angelic Face, of his brutal, malicious brand of torture. Marco was longing to meet him once more. Angelus had made him one night, just before the restoration of his soul, and Marco was going to bring Angelus back. Together, they would ride the useless mortals like ponies and drink to their heart's content.
Earth would be their hell.
Angelus the demon would finally be back, and he would have the most precious soul of all.
"All right, here's the plan." Angel said briskly as soon as the sun's deadly rays dipped low over the horizon. He slipped on his trenchcoat quickly and looked over at them. "Wesley will come with me to check the blood-supply ring out. Jess, you and Cordy go to the V.I.P. headquarters. If I don't come back within an hour, send backup."
"Right," Jessica nodded firmly as she wriggled into her own coat, a polished leather dress-coat that reached to her calves snugly. "We're meeting up in the V.I.P headquarters then?"
He nodded quickly. "Yeah. I want to check the girl out, since records show nothing on the girl."
"That, in itself, is plainly unnatural." Wesley commented blandly as he packed in a few stakes into his pocket and picked up a lethal-looking crossbow. "We didn't even find her birth certificate in any of the archives."
Jessica frowned. "Then she just...appeared?" her expression grew hopeful. Maybe there was someone like her after all. "Like me?"
"You didn't just appear," Angel told her gently. He knew she had a few issues about growing rapidly and having almost no childhood at all, unlike normal human children, and he wanted her to feel better. Especially since he was feeling guilty about it.
'To fit in?' a voice asked at the back of his head snidely. 'You know she would never fit in. Like you. You know she isn't like other humans.' Angel pushed away the thought, then continued his sentence. "You were born. Like a normal child. And since I do not have any procreating abilities, the Powers That Be mixed my essence with your mother's. That how YOU came about."
Jessica relaxed into a sunny smile, although the smile didn't touch her wistful eyes. "I knew that."
"All right, that's enough, you guys." Cordelia broke in. "You'd bettter kick their butts and come back in ONE piece."
"Thanks, Cordy. We'll be careful." Angel agreed he and Wesley headed to the right, while Jessica and Cordelia moved towards the left.
"We're gonna take my bike," Jessica told her, pointing to her baby, a sleek black motorcycle equipped with state-of-the-art gadgets and a silencer that made the bike run smooth as butter and quiet as a panther. "It's a long way."
Cordelia sighed. "And there goes my painfully styled hair."
Jessica grinned. "Well, I always have a helmet."
Cordelia's eyes widened in horror. "No! Nothing but that! It totally spoils hair!! I mean, having a motorbike helmet wrapped around your head is a hazard. God knows what will happen to the hair follicles." she touched her hair ginerly. "Aveda can only fix that much."
"It's for safety reasons."
"Then I'd prefer to die in style than live in disgrace."
True enough, as Angel brought his trusty Plymouth Belvedere to a halt a distance away from the said area, it was deserted.
Crumpled-up newspapers rolled along the empty roads like tumbleweed in an old wild west movie, giving it an overall deserted feeling.
But it was far from deserted, Angel knew. It was filled with evil.
Wesley stepped out of the car behind him, narrowly missing a painful experience with the door handle. He gripped a stake tightly in his hands and looked around as Angel sniffed the air cautiously. One could never be too careful.
"Smell anything?" Wesley asked as he came up behind him, his eyes darting around warily. "It looks very deserted to me."
"That's what they want you to think." Angel told him tersely as he moved towards a particular warehouse next to the run-down Corinth Studios. Fleetingly, he remembered how glorious Corinth Studios had been, churning out famous movies after famous movies.
But now, as he surveyed the building that had lost it's splendour of the 60s, he felt a little sad for it.
'Everything changes,' he thought. 'People, buildings, tastes change. Nothing lasts forever.'
With a pang of sadness, he thought back to Buffy, his one and only love. She was so beautiful. Even now, he could remember what she looked like, how her touch felt. And her sweet kiss...
Angel shook his head to clear the thoughts that distracted him. Right now, he needed to concentrate, to bust this group once and for all. And find out who they were working for by the way. Los Angeles had to be rid of another menace.
Just then, the faintest hint of a coppery tang reached his nostrils. Angel stiffened. So what the vampire had told Jessica was true after all. The blood delivery was back in business.
'But who revived it?' he had to know, especially after he wrecked everything so it was irrepairable. It was all too strange. Considering the vision Cordelia had, this might, in some way, be connected to everything.
"I think it's right that way," Wesley said suddenly, pointing to the right. "That door looks newly installed."
Angel nodded. "Keep your eyes peeled, Wesley. This may be a big operation. Chances are we'll be outnumbered."
Wesley swallowed and nodded. "Right. Why didn't I think of that?" he held on to his stake tightly as Angel stuck his hands in his duster pockets and removed two more.
"This time it's going down for good." he said quietly, remembering Doyle, a half-demon who was the first one to help him when he was new in the city and not sure where to start. Doyle had been the one with the vision. But he had transferred it to Cordelia when he died-in the form of a kiss, which may be the profession of his love for her-and Cordelia had been griping about it. But deep down, Angel knew, Cordelia loved Doyle, in her own way.
"All right, we're here." Jessica announced as Cordelia got off first with an audible sigh of relief, obviously glad to be still among the living. She had acquired the help of several new gods she hadn't believed in previously, and silently thanked them for keeping her intact.
"I change my mind about the bike helmet thingy." Cordelia announced, then frowned at her suspiciously. "Are you sure you're qualified? Let me see some driver's license."
"You were with me when I took my driving test."
"Somehow, I think that was a clone of you. Or something."
"That was a car. This is a motorbike."
"You're supposed to be good at both."
"It was that bad?"
"Well, let's put it this way: you are the reason why road insurance is implemented and more hospitals are built." Cordelia told her peevishly. "Remind me to call my insurance agent later."
With that, Cordelia marched into the V.I.P. Headquarters with Jessica in tow.
"Hi everyone." Cordelia chirped as she entered the place. The large room now was a far cry from what it looked like in the morning: computers and screens of every shape and size were running, and nearby was a whole collection of guns in every style.
'Too bad they didn't have any *real* useful tool against demons and the supernatural.' Jessica thought, looking around. Nevertheless, she couldn't help but feel impressed. Now, if only her dad would take interior designing tips from them, she and the rest of the "staff" would be happy campers.
"Hi!" Val grinned, then looked around. "I thought you were bringing your boss here too?"
"Uh, he's got something to settle first. The blood delivery company down the road." Jessica told her with an apologetic smile. "We believe that the ringleader might know something about who's after her." she tilted her head in the direction of Cassandra, who was lying on the sofa motionless, save for some muffled groans and whines.
"Wait a minute," Nikki snapped. "*He* went ahead without filling us in the plan?"
"Hey, the last time I checked, you aren't a vampire slayer." Cordelia leapt to Angel's defense. "So don't go all "Tomb Raider" on me, okay? We're saving your asses here and you're not grateful at all."
"We don't need you to save our butts." Nikki shot back angrily. "We were in a middle of a fight of some kind and you have the nice timing to drop by and save us, giving us the crap about visions and everything. News flash: There are NO such thing as demons in this world. They don't freakin' EXIST." her eyes narrowed to slits as she ragarded them.
Whipping out a large gun, she pointed it at them. "I'll bet you are after the girl and you rigged it up just so you can become the good guy and we all trust you. Seriously, I don't trust you at all."
"One, believe it or not, we're telling the truth. There ARE such things as demons, vampires, and werewolves. Why not go and take a long walk in the cemetery in the middle of the night? You'd see one of those non-existent demons having you for a late-night snack." Jessica regarded Nikki calmly, inwardly feeling irritated. "Two, and if we wanted to get Cassandra, we sure have lots of chances to do it." she gestured at Gunn.
"Three," Jessica continued with a small smile as her booted feet flashed out in a black blur and lashed out at the gun Nikki was holding. Nikki yelped in pain as the gun sailed up in the air, with the hard leather of Jessica's feet connecting with her wrist.
In a flash of anger, Nikki rushed for Jessica with a flurry of kicks and blows. But Nikki was just an ordinary human; Jessica was not. She deflected the blows with martial arts precision, and in just a simple feint, a sweep kick, and a hard elbow, Nikki was pinned securely to the floor just in time for Jessica to catch the gun in her hand and point it at her forehead.
"I don't like guns." she said calmly. "Especially when they're pointed at me. You can choose to believe us, or you don't. No skin off my nose. But if you attempt to damage my associates' life in any way while we're on this case," her soft brown eyes grew hard and cold. "You're gonna pray that you were never born at all."
Defeated, Nikki glared up at her attacker in anger, too furious to say anything. Up till now, no one had defeated her in combat before! But here, now, some mysterious girl had gained the upper hand so easily. Jessica released the pressure and stood up, brushing off her hands casually.
Everyone in the room, save for Gunn and Cordelia, were surprised at her speed and strength, speechless to say anything for a moment. Gunn couldn't help a grin from spreading on his face. Well, that Nikki deserved a wake-up call anyway. And obviously what Jessica just did had more or less assured them that she was serious.
"Right," Val stepped in hastily. "If we're going to work together on this case, we're going to have to need all the help we can get," she shot a meaningful look at Nikki, who was seething in anger and massaging her sore wrist. "After all, they're on our side."
"All right." Nikki said finally, glowering at them. "Tell us where the blood delivery company is. I'll check it out."
"No." Cordelia said flatly. "My boss has got it under control."
"Way I look at it, there's bound to be many so-called demons involved. Your boss isn't Superman."
"Yeah well, he isn't human either."
"I can deal. We don't need you guys." Nikki said challengingly, moving a step forward.
"Yeah right. Go in there and see how long you live." Cordelia moved another step forward, the hostility between them loud and clear, despite the way Jessica had stepped in just now. There was a sarcastic smile of Cordelia's face, and Jessica was a little worried of what she would say next. They both seemed to hate each other's guts, that much was evident.
Things weren't exactly sunny, and Cordy was making it worse. Jessica understood the age-old instinct of protecting what was one's, but did Nikki have to be so damned stand-offish?
"And besides," Cordy continued, crossing her arms over her chest smugly. "Your ass just got kicked by Angel's kid here. Clearly, she's very much better than it than you are. And her skills were taught by her father. So, what makes you think *you* can deal? If you can manage to defeat Jess, then we'll talk about it. Don't forget, she's seasoned in this."
'Well, that isn't exactly true,' Jessica thought automatically. She had only killed a few assorted little demons and vampires, and that was including the ones she had staked in the morning. And even that, she had sustained more than a few unnecessary bruises and injuries which were already in the process of healing. Her healing process was slower than her father's, but faster than a normal human's, when it came right down to it. 'Man, I'm pretty new at this too.'
"That's enough, Cordy," Gunn interrupted before an enraged Nikki could say anything. "We're not here to quarrel. We're here to work things out."
Val shot him a grateful look as Tasha went forward and spoke to Nikki briefly, managing to calm her down somewhat.
"Sorry," Val apologized. "We didn't mean to doubt you and everything." she leaned forward. "What's the plan?"
Jessica thought for a while, a frown on her pretty features. "Have you checked up on Fontaine Enterprises for any disputes or company rivals of any kind? Whoever sent those demons is definitely powerful."
"Yeah, but we didn't find anything of importance." Kay shrugged. "Maybe the dispute is personal or something. When you're up on the Ten Most Powerful People list, there's a lot of people out there who'll want to tear you down."
"The world, what a beautiful place." Jessica mumbled under her breath. This, so far, would be her third case, and she was happy about it. Happy in the sense that she might at least be able to help, and her father would be one step towards his redemption. Especially after the much-talked-about destruction of Wolfram and Hart. The victims of that agency-and those who really knew what had happened-had poured in their gratitude towards Angel Investigations, and probably much more people knew about them already. Which wasn't entirely bad.
Cordelia threw a look in Cassandra's direction and frowned. "Maybe they're not after Marie Fontaine. Maybe all they want is her."
"I wouldn't know," Johnny said doubtfully. "There had been a few attempted sabotages within Fontaine Enterprises lately. The police are keeping a tight lid on it."
"*Very* tight." Kay agreed. "Even I have a hard time hacking into their databases."
"We'll have to check up on Marie Fontaine and possibly her entire family." Gunn spoke up. "Famous person like her, there's bound to be a lot of info on the net about her. We may have some idea about who's gunning for Cassandra."
"May be an evil, demon-worshipping cult bent on getting her as a human sacrifice, slice her open, and string all her organs up as a necklace to put on the demon's neck." Cordelia said cheerfully.
They all looked at her.
"What?" she frowned at them. "It could happen."
Val grimaced. "You guys deal with all these? Eww."
"Most of the time." Jessica nodded casually, then said to Cordelia, her nose wrinkling. "Do you have to be so *graphic*?" then she turned back to Val. "Usually, we cut all their heads off. The demons, I mean. Not the people."
"I've lived here for so long and I haven't even had the faintest idea that there are demons wreaking havoc around." Tasha mused.
"It's the typical denial thing." Jessica assured her with a careless shrug. "We have it all the time. But it always makes the job easier."
The door, surprisingly, wasn't locked. Angel and Wesley exchanged looks as they slowly opened the heavy door, muscles coiled and tensed for what was behind the door. They were walking into a trap and they knew it.
Luckily Angel had caught sight of a tiny door at the back next to the Dumpster at the other end of the huge, seemingly deserted building. Graffiti decorated the mossy walls, mostly of vulgarities and obscene pictures.
His senses on the alert, Angel headed into the darkness of the building, followed by Wesley. Being in the dark for centuries helped him sharpen his night vision, and he had no problem with the dark. What he was worried about, was Wesley. He could hear the Britishman fumbling about in the dark, but being, in general, a lot quieter now.
'Strange why they wouldn't light up this place.' Angel thought. Something was definitely wrong with this. There was no movement at all, and the scent of blood wasn't strong. It was a little stronger than the scent outside, but not much. Which could only mean one thing.
The blood delivery service had moved.
Cursing under his breath, he removed a tiny flashlight from his pocket and flicked it on. It's powerful beam swept throughtout the bloodstained walls.
"There's nothing here." Angel growled. The smell of blood was still fresh, which meant they had moved not long ago.
Wesley stiffened and looked around. Except for a large rat with sinister red eyes glaring at them when the light fell on it, there was nothing else. The bloodstains on the wall were the only signs that they were here at all.
"It's as if they had been warned beforehand." he said to Wesley, feeling frustrated. "But by who?"
"That's definitely the question of the hour," Wesley agreed, adjusting his glasses. "The big boss Jessica's vampire was talking about this morning, maybe."
"He must've eyes everywhere." Angel mused aloud. But he was getting more and more annoyed. 'Darn those blood delivery services.'
He was sure they were somewhere out there right now, gathering more victims for vampires who didn't want to hunt. More people were going to die tonight because he was too slow. He gritted his teeth in anger.
'What can you do? You're only a vampire, you're not God.' he found a part of himself thinking. It was a wasted trip, coming out here.
"Let's head back to where Jessica is. We still have the Fontaine case to deal with." Angel said to Wesley.
"Please, please gentle sir, spare me my life. I have nothing now and my wife has left me...have pity on me."
The pleading was like music to Angelus' ears as he circled his prey carefully. Marque Fontaine had been a wealthy merchant, one who had dealings with his now-dead father. Marque had thought of him only as a wastrel and a scoundrel, and when Angelus had been human, the man had always thought up of ways to make his life more miserable, rattling to his da about the wild antics and pranks he had been up to, more often than not false.
Angelus' relationship with his family was not close; as he had always been the black sheep, the bad egg-so called-of the family. He had stolen from his family on several occasions, broke his mother's heart and his father's whip from the many times of thievery and beatings after that.
Most of the money went to making merry and Betsy, his favourite at the bar. Blonde and beautiful, with an ample cleavage she had never bothered to hide, she drove Angelus wild. That was before he got changed by a classic beauty named Darla, a woman whom every man would fall heavily for. Now, she was his one and only. He had eyes for no other.
She had transformed him from miserable mortal to something much, much more powerful and dark. It allowed him to be immortal, to live forever. And he was enjoying every bit of it.
"Do you know how many people I've killed?" he mused aloud as he looked Marque over, a pathetic figure cowering in the shadows as Darla looked on in unmasked delight. "I'm no gentle sir."
Marque hadn't recognized him because of the vampiric visage he had on. His true face now. But for the fun of it, he let it revert to his human face, thoroughly enjoying the shock and horror written on the miserable man's face.
"Holy Lord God, save me!" Marque exclaimed in terror as he tried to back away. But his legs wouldn't let him. Angelus had broken both his legs, one by one, and allowed him sufficient time to feel the pain of each leg he'd so callously snapped, as if his bone was nothing more than a dry twig.
Angelus leered at him and grinned. "God wouldn't hear you now, old man. You're at my mercy, not His. To think of it, you look a little like me old man. He died, you know." the vampire said casually. "And I slayed that old bastard himself."
"Stay away from me, hellspawn." Marque backed away further, trying desperately to escape. He fumbled inside for the silver crucifix he had always carried around and finally located it.
"Why?" Angelus smiled, with no attempt at a trace of humanity. "I find it all so...amusing."
The cool metal of the cross soothed Marque slightly as he raised it towards Angelus, who fought not to hiss and back away. The reflected light from the cross stabbed painfully at his eyes as he stood his ground and smiled coldly.
"You are only human. Soon, you will tire, and I will have you."
With a demonic smirk, he waited for the man's violently trembling hand to fall.